“Whether or not you use today, your focus should be on safety.”

For most people, recovery means abstinence from the use of alcohol or other drugs.

I think this is true of most drug treatment providers.  And I think it is true of most family members and friends of people who have a history of opiate use.  It is even true of most people who are currently using, or who consider themselves to be in recovery.

As a result, the focus of recovery is on not using.  The measure of recovery success becomes whether or not a person uses.  And time itself becomes measured in days sober.  Had a relapse?  Reset the recovery clock back to zero!

But shouldn’t our real focus be on safety?

Think of what it would be like to say to someone you care about, “whether or not you use today, our focus should be on safety.”

How would that feel?  What would that mean?

Focus is a powerful thing.  That one change in focus has great transformational power.

For the person in recovery, changing the focus of recovery from use/non-use to safety has the power to transform their relationship with recovery.  For family and friends, it has the power to transform their relationship with the person they love.  For doctors, counselors, probation officers and other professionals, it has the power to transform and improve their life’s work.  Even more, the change to a focus on safety has the power to save lives.

Take a look at the traditional ways we talk about the focus of recovery:

Traditional Focus of Recovery





Now consider a new focus:

New and Improved Focus of Recovery



It’s not that abstinence is not a worthwhile goal.  It’s just that abstinence is really only a means to an end: safety from harm.

All too often, in focusing on the means (abstinence), we lose sight of the ends (safety from harm).  It’s a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.  And the sad truth is that devastating harm often results.

“Abstinence is really only the means to an end: safety from harm.”

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